Smoke alarm maintenance

THE practical challenges involved in ensuring smoke alarms in rental properties are correctly installed and maintained are obvious.

But for the benefit of landlords and real estate agents who might be unclear about the law, coroner Mark Buscombe has issued a reminder that, since 2006, residential leases in NSW have put responsibility for smoke alarms squarely in the hands of property owners.

Mr Buscombe was commenting at the end of an inquest into the death of Hamilton man Maxwell Blizzard, who died as the result of a fire in his rented premises in 2010.

Witnesses reported not hearing any smoke alarms on the night of the fire and the coroner remarked that conflicting evidence suggested a lack of clarity in the minds of those involved over who ought to have been responsible to making sure alarms were fitted and maintained.

A suggestion by a real estate agent that this task fell to the tenant was rejected by the coroner, who recommended that agents take steps to ensure that alarms in the properties they manage are present and functional.

That won’t always be easy. Tenants may, for example, remove or disconnect alarms, especially if they are prone to being set off by kitchen fumes or other harmless triggers.

Some landlords, on the other hand, are so notoriously reluctant to spend money on their properties that maintaining smoke alarms would scarcely rate on their lists of priorities.

The sad case of Mr Blizzard should serve as a warning to agents and building managers that they need to be more firm in either type of instance.

As the legal representatives of landlords who, under lease terms, have responsibility for smoke alarms, agents could find themselves challenged in court if failure to provide or maintain alarms was found to be a contributing factor in a case involving loss of life or property.

For their own good, as well as for the good of both landlords and tenants, agents and managers ought to take Mr Buscombe’s advice and carefully document the installation and regular maintenance and testing of smoke alarms as part of their business procedure.

THE best way to cut violence on the streets of Newcastle, as the city’s police have recently stated, is to arrest perpetrators and punish them sternly enough to discourage them from repeat offences.

Whether telegraphing plans to saturate the streets with riot squads is the best way to achieve that goal is open to debate.

Wide publicity about the impending presence of police officers at a certain location might be more likely to encourage the city’s malcontents and sociopaths to sample alternative venues until the heat dies down.

A preferable approach, perhaps, might be to launch large-scale operations with less advance fanfare. This would reduce the prospects of a quiet weekend for the officers involved, but enhance their opportunities to encounter their stated targets.

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